Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Clay Matthews Moves Inside

Clay Matthews Sacks Jay Cutler

Last Sunday when the Green Bay Packers demolished the Chicago Bears 55-14, defensive coordinator Dom Capers unleashed a new wrinkle. It involved moving outside linebacker Clay Matthews to inside linebacker for much of the game.

According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Matthews played a total of 53 snaps, with 38 of those coming at middle linebacker (72%).

This move was precipitated by two glaring problems with the existing inside linebacker rotation:

  • Inability to get off blocks and drive downhill to the ball.
  • Ineffectively covering the middle of the field in pass coverage.

As we’ll see in the film below, Matthews’ presence at middle linebacker went a long way towards correcting those problems. It’s yet to be seen if Matthews will remain there in the future, or at what frequency of his snaps, but the new look is very encouraging.

According to Clay, he had only made the conversion to middle linebacker after they bye week and took a 5-day crash course in linebacking.

While breaking down his 38 snaps at middle linebacker, I took away three key observations:

  • Clay was most effective when he played the middle linebacker on the boundary side of the formation.
  • He was very good at avoiding blocks, which allowed him to move freely and meet the ball carrier in the hole.
  • He instantly upgraded the pass coverage in the middle of the field.

We’ll look at five plays where Clay made an impact while playing in the boundary middle linebacker position.

In the play below, the Bears are attempting to run an inside zone with Forte (#22). Matthews anticipates the ball, and moves between the hash marks. When Forte decides to cut back to the boundary, Matthews avoids the block of #74, who was responsible for the boundary defender, and drops Forte for no gain. Nice anticipation and pursuit.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In the next play, the Bears are running a split zone, which is variation of the zone, but it has the tight end (#83) come across the formation to seal the back side. Clay cleanly squares up Forte and meets him in the hole for a small gain.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

This third play below was a little bit of luck in getting the right defense call for the offensive play. Capers called an outside stunt with Matthews and Peppers. By doing so, Matthews was in perfect position to de-cleat the receiver on the end-around. This type of defensive play call still allows Clay to utilize his skills as an outside pass rusher.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In the fourth play below, the Bears are attempting to pass the ball and the Packers counter by playing zone coverage.  Even though Clay doesn’t have a lot of experience playing the hook/curl zone (the zone played in the middle of the field) because he has more experience playing the curl/flat zone (the zone played on the outside of the field), he diagnoses the play perfectly and keeps the ball in front of him the whole time. He reacts to the scrambling quarterback and stops him for almost no gain.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Finding middle linebackers who can stuff the run is easier than finding ones who can go out in pass coverage. Clay is a unique blend of power and speed, which allows him to stuff ball carriers at the point of attack, but yet provides him with the makeup speed to drive downhill in zone pass coverage.

The fifth and final play below showcases Clay’s pass coverage skills. The Bears are trying to get the ball to the H-back on a delay release route, where he slowly runs an arc around the formation to meet the ball on the hash mark. Clay does a great job at getting proper depth in his drop to avoid being vulnerable on a vertical or double move. When the ball is in the air, he drives downhill to meet the receiver for no additional yards. The zone kept the play in front and didn’t yield a large chunk of yards.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Clay Matthews was effective against the Bears, and it gives hope the defense during the remainder of the season. His success might have been a product of the unscouted nature of it, leaving the Bears unprepared for that look. However, linebacker responsibilities are nearly universal in the NFL, so the offense should have known how to attack a (read capital A) middle linebacker. But, Clay was athletic enough to pull it off and he appears to be one potential answer this season to the two major problems described above.

I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


13 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Clay Matthews Moves Inside

  1. I can’t hep but sense that in video #2,the TE #83 or the Center #63 totally blew his assignment which when looking at it,one was more likely suppose to take on Matthews and not go right into the already blocked pile.When a player,as with Matthews here is completely unaccounted for leans more toward a blown cover by the TE or Center….IMO. 🙂

    1. Probably was a blown assignment, but if it was, it was the center. The tight end seals outside-in on the split zone.

  2. Matthews so reminds me of Urlacher…fast, furious, physical and freakin being there one play after another. Domination baby!

  3. Clay Nitschke or Clay Lewis. Either way it’s all good. This one single move by Capers could get us to another super bowl this year. Hopefully Perry and Peppers continue to get better and better. This won’t work without them.

    1. I think you are right. Earlier this season I suggested Janis opposite Nelson and I still think that is a good idea.
      Matthews is an instinctive player with incredible football smarts. Make him a pass rusher all day long at OLB and you remove his major talent. At ILB position he’s more like a Luke Kuechly or as someone suggested a Brian Urlacher but faster and even more instinctive.
      The other 31 teams will look at this and figure they can combat it, but I think they will be missing the point. This isn’t a gimmick but a strategic chess move. You can’t beat a instinctive, great players with tricks.
      We’ll see over the last 7 games if this move inside is effective. I think it will be.

  4. We’ve got enough pass rushers on the D to keep QB pressure at an above average (instead of excellent) level without Clay. Peppers, Perry, Neal, and Daniels have all been at least pretty good this year. And CM3 still got some outside rushes in on Sunday night.

    But we HAD NO ILBs to fill gaps in the run D and cover TE/RBs. Now we do. Win/win.

    I really do think this Clay-as-an-ILB thing may just propel this defense to a high enough level to make a real run in the playoffs with Aaron at QB.


    1. On a completely off topic point – I’d like to announce to my fellow Packer fans here that I became a daddy last night at 5:43 PM Lambeau time. Eliana Grace was born. 7 lbs, 10 oz and 20.25 in.

      And of course cute as a button. I’ve got a CM3 onesie with her name on it that we are going to be wearing when the Iggles come to town on Sunday!

      1. Congrats – more important than football. My daughter just gave birth to my first grandchild.

      2. Thanks for the kind words on my article, but more importantly, congrats to you on the birth of your child! That’s fantastic.

  5. Unfortunately, CM3’s brother indicates Clay is not to thrilled about playing ILB. Must be a prestige- ego thing. Because from a logic standpoint, CM3 should realize he played by far his best game of the year.
    He found plenty of action at the ILB position and was creating havoc in the backfield too. So from a production standpoint he should be pleased. Plus, it provides the Packers with the ability to put their best players on the field and giving the team the best chance to win. Hope he realizes this, and doesn’t go all diva on us.

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